Tempe Corona del Sol didn’t look far to find Sam Duane Jr.’s successor.
Realizing the importance of continuity after capturing four consecutive Division I boys basketball titles, Corona del Sol will hire from within, recommending two-year varsity assistant Neil MacDonald to take over the dynasty.
MacDonald is being recommended to the Tempe Union High School District governing board to be its next coach.
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“Principal (Brent) Brown and I feel Neil will do a fine job,” Athletic Director Dan Nero said. “Huge shoes to fill obviously, but we think he is a great fit for our program. Like Neil said, ‘Time to get to work.’ ”
Corona del Sol returns its two biggest pieces, sophomore point guard Alex Barcello and 6-foot-11 freshman forward Marvin Bagley III, from a 33-1 team that ended up ranked among the top 10 in the nation in MaxPreps’ final Xcellent 25.
“Coach MacDonald is a great coach and I know he is going to lead our team in the right direction,” said Barcello, who made All-Arizona, along with Bagley, last season. “We all wanted a coach that we knew and a coach who knew us. He knows what he’s doing and all the guys are willing to listen to achieve the goal that we want to accomplish next year.
“It’s sad to see Coach Duane leaving but we are all thankful for our new coach and know he is the right man for the job.”
Corona del Sol went 128-7 during its four-year reign of championships.
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Corona del Sol also returns starting combo guard Tyrell Henderson, who recently committed to Portland State.
“I already coached Alex for two years and Marvin for one,” MacDonald said. “It’s something I look forward to. When you think about when you walk into a program as a new head coach for a reason like this, it’s usually a coach who leaves for the opposite reason. … What a tremendous opportunity.”
MacDonald, who worked with Duane before at Gilbert Mesquite, said he didn’t feel he was being groomed for this when he came over two years ago. He said he was as surprised as anybody that Duane stepped down.
“I’ve known Sammy for a long time,” MacDonald said. “I knew he was tired. We were all tired. But I was surprised when he pulled the trigger.”
Input from student-athletes and parents was used during the hiring process.
MacDonald was a graduate assistant at Arizona State and a former head coach at Gilbert Campo Verde High. He was at Campo Verde before joining Duane’s staff two years ago. He also coached in the Swedish Basketball Federation and was an assistant under Duane at Mesquite, before Duane came to Corona del Sol 11 years ago.
MacDonald said he won’t change what has been working so well. He will move over this summer from Campo Verde to Corona del Sol as an English teacher.
“The reason I was there to begin with was the way Sammy’s program was already being run,” MacDonald said. “It was a good fit from the get go, and I was going to look to make a move there as a teacher anyway. If I didn’t have the amount of respect that I did in that program, I wouldn’t have joined two years ago.
“It was natural. They were looking for someone as a teacher, who is visible on campus and add to the school more than just a basketball coach. That goes to my philosophy that you have to be more than a coach.”
MacDonald will keep the same offensive and defensive schemes, at times utilizing the 1-3-1 zone that has been key to Corona del Sol’s run.
He said he doesn’t feel like he is walking into a pressure situation.
“The application process was, ‘How do you fill the shoes of a four-time defending state champion coach?’ ” MacDonald said. “It depends on how you measure your success. If the only focus is on the outcome, the hanging of the banners and the rings, the job is too intimidating. We never measured our success that way.
“The summers are about player development. We’ll follow the same formula that (Duane’s) dad followed (in the 1980s and 1990s at Corona del Sol). People are doing the same thing in June. We are fortunate to have an outstanding group of young men, playing for each other and taking care of business on and off the court. That’s how we’ll measure our success.”
Duane said in a text about MacDonald, “He will do great!!”
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